My friends and I agree that there are few things more unsettling than waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a loud noise in our house.
And yet that’s exactly what happened to a friend of mine a few years ago.
She heard a loud noise on the first floor of her house, quickly followed by the screeching of her house alarm going off.
She jumped out of bed and grabbed the closest heavy object and went to investigate.
She opened the door to her bedroom, and crept downstairs to find…..no intruder.
What she did find was that a closet—one that had been filled to capacity— had burst open and triggered one of the motion sensors on her back door.
Her procrastination around de-cluttering had almost triggered a full blown panic attack.
After her anxiety about the alarm had subsided, she decided it was time to clean out her closets.
My friend’s early morning house-alarm incident was a wake-up call, literally and figuratively, that she needed to get rid of some things.
While not everyone has an incident like this to prod them into taking action, many of us put off getting rid of the things we no longer need because we find it hard to let go.
We do this with our emotions, too.
Our insides get jam packed, and it’s our emotions rather than physical things that take up space inside of us.
It’s not the emotions we enjoy like “happy” or “excited” or “joyful” that get stuck inside of us. It’s the ones like hurt, sadness and anger that linger.
We don’t like feeling these emotions so we cast aside them aside with the intention of either dealing with them later or never dealing with them at all.
I can say personally I have chosen in the past to ignore or minimize emotions I didn’t want to feel (like resentment and anger) in the hopes that if I ignored them, they would somehow lessen or go away over time.
But like the stuff in my friend’s closet, the emotions that stay stuck inside of us eventually want to burst out.
Losing your temper quickly, crying over something trivial, or feeling an internal sense of heaviness or burden can all be signs that you have unacknowledged emotions that need to come out.
Here are a few strategies I’ve taught my clients to help them acknowledge their feelings and release their emotions:
1. Interview Your Feelings.
For this technique, get a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Using your dominant hand, ask yourself a question about your feelings. Switch hands, then write down the answer with your non-dominant hand.
Try not to spend a lot of time thinking….just write. It will likely be slower using your non-dominant hand, so if you want to write down phrases, rather than full sentences, that’s OK.
This works because our language processing is controlled on one side of our brain, while our emotional processing is controlled by the other side of our brain. Switching to your non-dominant hand will get you out of your normal, logical thought processing and help you access emotions that might be stuck deep inside.
2. Have A 5 Minute Free For All.
If you have ever seen a toddler get upset, you will have an idea of what I am suggesting with the “5 minute free for all”.
Toddlers have no filter on what they are feeling because they haven’t been socialized to be embarrassed about their emotions. So when something upsets them, they react in the moment with the full measure of anger or sadness or whatever else they are feeling.
Once these feelings have been expressed, they are gone. There is nothing left inside to remain upset about and they are able to go back to being their normal selves.
It’s this ability to go back to your normal self, without the added burden of old emotions, that this strategy helps to facilitate.
To use this strategy for yourself, I recommend that you go someplace where you have absolutely privacy. The privacy will help relax any inhibitions you might feel about expressing your feelings fully.
Set a timer for 5 minutes. Then channel your inner toddler and give yourself permission to let it all out, especially the emotions you view as too mean or selfish or any other thought that shuts down the flow of emotions.
The point with this is to be loud and to voice anything that wants to come up, even if it might seem unrelated to anything you currently have going on.
You don’t have to yell (although you can!) but I do recommend raising your voice and talking loudly….soft-talking or using your normal tone of voice will keep you from accessing the feelings that are buried deep inside.
3. Try On A Feeling.
Often times, emotions get stuck inside of us because we think we shouldn’t feel a certain way. The judgement that certain feelings are wrong often blocks us from acknowledging what is really there.
I have found that using the phrase “I wonder if it’s possible if I feel…..” and then filling in a trial emotion allows me to try out different feelings, kind of like trying on an outfit at a store, to see which one(s) fit best.
If you feel stuck coming when trying to come up with an emotion to try out, I recommend starting with these ones out first in your list of emotions because they are the most common ones we try to ignore: angry, hurt, ashamed, jealous, stupid and inadequate.
As you try on each emotion, pay attention to how you feel in your body. When you try on an emotion that resonates, you will feel either a surge of emotion or a sense of deep knowing that almost feels peaceful. If you don’t notice any reaction in your body, move on to the next emotion.
If you feel a surge of emotion that lingers with a particular emotion, consider doing step #2 to release any other thoughts that might be attached to that emotion.
Taking time to acknowledge and let go of any old emotions is critical to maintaining our ability to enjoy our lives in the present and to avoid emotional outbursts that are triggered by long-ignored feelings that need our attention.
These three techniques of Interviewing Your Feelings, Have A 5 Minute Free For All, and Try On A Feeling can all help you access emotions that have been stuck inside and are ready to come out.
Don’t wait until your emotions bust out of you in an unexpected way….try one of these techniques today!